With immense gratitude, the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) announces that attorney and homeless rights advocate Osha Neumann is retiring. Neumann has championed the decriminalization of poverty and led the law center’s Homelessness Practice for 18 years.
Reflecting on his years of service at EBCLC, Neumann said, “I am proud of the practice that we built. I don’t know any other like it. We have deep roots in the community. We have gone to where the people are, not made them come to us. We have crawled into their hovels and got our knees dirty. We have gained an intimate knowledge of their sorrows and their joys, their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles, and the injustices they endure. We have taken that knowledge and used it to fight for their rights, human and constitutional, in the council chambers of municipal government, and in the courts – in traffic court, where we have resisted the criminalization of homelessness one person at a time, and in superior and federal court where we have brought cases that impact whole communities. It’s rare for litigators to spend time in the streets and for advocates, who spend time on the street, to litigate. The gap is wide, between the world of judges and legislators and the world in which our clients live their lives. Our struggle is to build a bridge of understanding and compassion across that deep divide.”
Countless EBCLC staff, students, and community members have felt Neumann’s impact over the years. “Like so many attorneys and community members, I had the honor of having been mentored and cared for by Osha. When I was a brand-new attorney at EBCLC’s Neighborhood Justice Clinic, Osha trained me to be as relentless with my compassion for my clients as I was with my advocacy. I have incredible memories of observing him, co-counseling with him, and being supported by him. I am grateful for all that he has invested in EBCLC,” said Executive Director Zoë Polk.
During his tenure at EBCLC, Neumann led many critical legal actions. He was integral to Sanchez v. Caltrans (2020), a victory for more than 1300 people experiencing homelessness whose valuable assets were confiscated and destroyed by Caltrans. His years-long advocacy to end harmful “sweeps” of curbside communities was crucial during the onset of the COVID19 pandemic. When the City of Albany planned to evict residents of the Albany Bulb, Neumann organized protests and worked to safeguard constitutional rights.
“It has been an extraordinary honor to work closely with Osha over the past few years. For Osha, going above and beyond on behalf of clients who are the most in need, is just what you do. His commitment to the work and the people we serve is both humbling and inspiring,” said Clean Slate Clinic Director Jael Myrick.
As a longtime Clinical Professor, Neumann has become beloved by EBCLC students and alumni. He has trained students on valuing handwritten testimony with as much rigor as formal pleadings. He also ensured all of his students developed soft skills, including interviewing with humility and valuing the dignity of all people. When Neumann co-directed the Clean Slate Clinic, he engaged students in his work to decriminalize poverty, including defending people who were levied municipal fines for sleeping, camping, or requesting money in public.
“Osha has demonstrated, time and time again, that he will fight for the communities that our society is quick to push aside and make invisible. He will leave behind a legacy at EBCLC that is rooted in compassion, commitment, and—perhaps most importantly—an anti-establishment and rebellious spirit,” said Co-Deputy Director Jay Kim.
Osha Neumann joined EBCLC as a Consulting Attorney in 2003. He has been in private practice in Berkeley since 1987, representing political protestors, victims of police misconduct, and people experiencing homelessness in cases regarding their civil rights. He is the chairperson of Community Defense Inc., a non-profit that promotes legal education for poor and marginalized communities. He is also an accomplished muralist responsible for many murals still to be seen in Berkeley.
We wish Osha the best on this next chapter of his incredible and inspiring journey. We hope to honor his investments into EBCLC, and our shared community, by continuing to fight for justice with the commitment, compassion, and humility that he has modeled for so many of us throughout the years.